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Farmworkers Deemed Essential Yet They Lack Basic COVID-19 Protections

A group of farmworkers in flannel shirts and caps, most bending over, picking strawberries. Stacks of flat boxes, and a flatbed trailer in the background.

Farmworkers live, travel, and work in close quarters, often for long hours and without proper breaks or accomodations, making them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. (USDA)

Farmworkers live, travel, and work in close quarters, and often without proper accommodations. They’re deemed “essential” workers by the Department of Homeland Security. They harvest and handle the produce on our tables.

And they lack access to basic protections from COVID-19.

An estimated 3 million farmworkers work in agricultural operations across the country, and almost all of them lack access to healthcare, sick pay, workplace protections, and access to unemployment benefits.

Of the 3 million farmworkers, around 2.5 million are undocumented immigrants, many from Spanish-speaking countries. Many say they lack even basic information about COVID-19, as most information given to them by their employers isn’t translated into Spanish.

Last week, the United Farm Workers sent an open letter to agricultural employers and organizations urging them to take “proactive steps to ensure the safety of farm workers, protect buyers and safeguard consumers.”

These steps include offering 40 hours of sick pay for workers, suspending policies making workers wait 90 days to receive sick time or demanding a doctor’s note to qualify, and offering administrative leave for workers with ill family members and on-site child care for parents.

The UFW letter also asks growers to provide basic information and training to workers, such as encouraging them to wash their hands and avoid touching their faces.

Read More:

• Farmworkers Are in the Coronavirus Crosshairs (Civil Eats)

• Farmworkers Are Still in the Fields as the Pandemic Spreads (Los Angeles Magazine)

• Coronavirus: Work Continues for county’s 36,000 farmworkers, who are considered essential (Ventura County Star)

• Immigrant farmworkers feed us despite the coronavirus pandemic. They deserve better (Sacramento Bee)

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